With the possibility that the next Republican candidate for president may be a Mormon, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS) has become a somewhat popular topic in the media. People wonder what will happen if our next president is a Mormon. Some writers have offered a positive glance at our church, while others have vilified it as counterfeit Christian church of homophobes, racists, and fear-mongers. This is nothing new to members of the LDS church; Mormons have attracted the ire of religionists and social influencers since its organization in 1830. And for nearly 200 years, we have wondered why. Mormons are expected to be, and usually are, industrious, friendly, reliable people doing their best to make the world a better place. True, Mormons embrace some uncommon religious doctrines, but all we ask is that people look to us to learn what we believe or disbelieve.
The correct name of the Mormon Church is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It is a basic Mormon belief that Christ organized a church during his ministry. Following Christ’s crucifixion, the early saints continued the church until persecution led to the loss of inspired priesthood leadership, resulting in what we know as the dark ages when Christianity splintered into the hundreds of factions that exist today. In 1830, Joseph Smith, Jr. organized the church as a “restoration” of Christ’s church, thus the title “latter-day saints” to differentiate the church of today from that of Bible times.
What defines the LDS Church is the belief that revelation from God to mankind continues today through a prophet and inspired leaders. The Bible, like any written work, can be interpreted in many ways, thus the many Christian churches today. Throughout the Old and New Testament, God inspired leaders to provide accurate interpretations of His word. The doctrines of the LDS Church are spoken of in the Bible but defined and clarified through men who we believe to be modern-day prophets of God.
If the definition of a Christian is one who believes Jesus Christ is the savior and redeemer of the world, that he is the only way by which we can be cleansed from our sins and go to heaven, then Mormons are Christians. Because of the atonement of Christ, all mankind will be resurrected and live forever. Mormons do believe that where we spend “forever” is determined by our righteousness. Because we all sin, the only way we can be truly righteous is by repenting. And the only way we can repent is because Christ paid for our sins. Man alone cannot work his way to heaven.
Joseph Smith, Jr. was the first president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Mormons believe he was a prophet and received heavenly manifestations and inspiration that led to the restoration of the church of Christ. For this reason, Joseph Smith is held in high regard by Mormons, but members do not consider him more than a man who was instrumental in establishing what we believe to be the true church of Christ. Joseph Smith was killed by an anti-Mormon mob in 1844. Since then, the LDS Church has been led by a succession of prophets.
Mormons do believe in scriptural books beside the Bible. Members of the church are nicknamed Mormons because we believe the Book of Mormon is equal to the Holy Bible in teaching us the ways of Christ. Church members also accept the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price as books of scripture. Critics of the LDS Church typically are opposed to any scriptural book in addition to the Bible, but Mormons believe God does, and always will, reveal things to man.
It is a fundamental Mormon belief that all people have the freedom to make choices and that we are to be civil toward others as they exercise that right, including those of different sexual orientations. We do believe that marriage should be between a man and a woman, that a traditional nuclear family is the intention of God. When this becomes a social issue and people are given the right to express opinion, Mormons typically oppose same sex marriage. However, accusing the LDS people as a whole of being homophobic — to dehumanize gays and lesbians, to deny them their personhood, dignity, and humanity — is not accurate.
Those that say the LDS Church is a cult are merely sharing an opinion, it is not a fact. The definition of a cult is any group, usually religious, that has departed from truth and adopted bizarre and strange practices. If one compares churches today to Christ’s church as he organized it with priesthood authority, respect to temples, apostles, prophets, and continuing revelation, the LDS Church may be the least likely of any Christian church to be a cult.
There are many women leaders in the LDS Church. The Relief Society, the organization of women in the LDS Church is one of the largest, if not the largest, such organization in the world. Women in the church have executive positions, provide important leadership, teach members of all ages, and preach sermons in worship services. Some leadership positions of the world-wide church and local jurisdictions continue to be limited to men, but all female members of the church play important roles in the affairs of the church.
Until 1890, some members, including leaders, of the LDS Church participated in plural marriage. This practice took place during the Mormon migration and settlement of the west. Polygamy is no longer practiced by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Any member who engages in plural marriage is excommunicated from the church. Individuals who are featured in the media as fundamental Mormon polygamists are not members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The LDS Church has built 136 temples throughout the world. Local worship buildings, called chapels, are used for Sunday services and weekly meeting and activities. All members and the public are invited to attend chapel services. Temples are different from chapels in that only worthy members of the church can enter temples. The ceremonies that take place in temples are not secret; members in the temple participate in ordinances and make covenants with God that are very special and sacred. Mormons have a great belief in the afterlife, and temple ceremonies include marriages of spouses that continue beyond earth life.
With their belief that God has revealed truth and light to man through modern-day prophets, it is only logical Mormons would want to tell the world about it. Today there are 52,000 LDS missionaries throughout the world serving and inviting everyone to learn of the LDS Church. Most missionaries are young men but young ladies also serve as well as senior husband and wife couples.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints holds to the idea that church and state are separate entities. We believe that church authority must not interfere with political matters and that elected LDS officials or civil servants are absolutely free to perform their duties. So what would happen if Mitt Romney was elected President of the United States? Probably nothing that anyone should be concerned about because he is a Mormon.
JEFF HOWARD is the Bishop of the Brainerd, Minn. Ward of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He has been a member his whole life and served in many church assignments, including a two-year mission to California from 1974-76.